28 of the Best Marketing Campaigns and Experiments of 2016 (and the People Behind Them)
It’s easy to get tunnel vision as a marketer.
At the same time, it’s important to let yourself be inspired by others.
Our industry can be creative, groundbreaking and a lot of fun. If you’re in need of a marketing recharge, here are 28 amazing marketing campaigns and experiments—and the amazing people who dreamed them up. Read on, and get inspired to add your own innovative contribution to this list!
1. Marketing himself, after a high-profile layoff
Marketer: Sree Sreenivasan
Innovation: If I were laid off from a high-profile job, I imagine I’d be pretty quiet on social media. But Sreenivasan,, former chief digital officer at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, wasn’t—he shared the news far and wide on Facebook, and asked for advice on what he should do next, even linking to a form inviting friends to give advice. In return, he racked up hundreds of likes, encouraging comments and more—proving that vulnerability can turn a low point into an opportunity.
2. The newsroom as marketing
Marketer: Danielle Morrill
Innovation: To be an authority on your topic, you’ve got to know it inside and out. At Mattermark, which collects and organizes information on the world’s fastest growing companies, CEO Morrill takes authority one step further: The company basically set up a small, independent newsroom (led by former TechCrunch reporter Alex Wilhelm) within the team, producing reporting and analysis on financial trends, the venture capital space, startups and more.
3. The trend caller
Marketer: Mary Meeker
Innovation: No slide deck is more anticipated every year than Meeker’s giant analysis of digital trends from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. In the 2016 Internet Trends Report, Meeker breaks down why Snapchat video marketing works, what motivates Millennials and so much more.
4. The foolproof formula
Marketer: Bamidele Onibalusi
Innovation: Busy marketers love surefire formulas. We love it even more when someone lets us in on a secret they could have kept to themselves. Onibalusi covers both in his actionable and thorough step-by-step opus on writing content that gets more than 100,000 views—every time.
5. Bringing more fun to newsletters
Marketer: Susan Su
Innovation: Is your inbox full to bursting? Mine too, but somehow there’s still room for newsletters that surprise and delight. Su’s Distro Snack, from 500 Startups, is one such delight, a beyond-quick read that consists of a daily startup growth tip and a “delightful GIF alongside.”
6. No more forms
Marketer: David Gerhardt
Innovation: Imagine a content marketing landscape with no gated content. No content upgrades. No more forms or hurdles to getting to what you want. At Drift, CEO David Cancel and Marketing Lead David Gerhardt are going all in on the idea of taking marketing back to its roots. Sensing a shift in the air toward true authenticity and connection above ROI, they’ve removed all forms from the site. “All of the content we create and share from here on out will be free,” they announced. Talk about turning the funnel upside down!
7. Startups 101 on Snapchat
Marketer: Mark Suster
Innovation: Does Snapchat marketing have to look like emojis and rainbow vomit filters? Not necessarily. Suster, a venture capitalist in Los Angeles, uses Snapchat to deliver what he calls “Snapstorms”—mini lectures across many video snaps that offer the inside scoop about startup challenges like hiring, power dynamics among boards, CEOs, and shareholders; and how to write a great email. Follow him here:
8. The surprise mixtape
Marketer: Toki Wright
Innovation: While most brand’s April Fools Day jokes are forgotten within 24 hours, Hamburger Helper produced an April 1st “prank” that’s a cut above: a shockingly good mixtape called Watch the Stove. The project started as a Twitter joke, but after General Mills enlisted music veteran Toki Wright and the students at McNally Smith College of Music, the project took on new heft—and then took the Internet by storm.
9. The videos taking over Facebook
Marketer: Andrew Gauthier
Innovation: You’ve seen them on Facebook: Quick, mouthwatering recipes that you experience from beginning to end over the course of 30 seconds to a minute (sound optional!). The source is often Gauthier’s project Tasty, a year-old pilot from BuzzFeed that has amassed more than 62 million Facebook fans (and taken over your feed). BuzzFeed followed up Tasty’s success with TastyJunior as well as Nifty, a hacks and DIY site with an even bigger following.
10. The automation experiment
Marketer: Tami Brehse
Innovation: Always be testing is our marketing mantra. So we were inspired by Brehse, who did just that by automating her Twitter posts for a full month to find out what would change (spoiler alert: the all-green stats above are hers!)
11. The DIY marketer
Marketer: Annie Cushing
Innovation: OK, we all know SEO is important. But getting from that basic understanding to the intricacies of site audits and technical SEO can be a huge hurdle—unless you’ve got Cushing in your corner. After years of educating the public through speaking, she now offers resources that bridge the gap (site audits! analytics basics! Excel dashboards!) that turn any marketer into a technical marketer.
12. The authenticity revolution
Marketer: Mack Fogelson
Innovation: When is a rebranding more than a rebranding? For Fogelson’s company, formerly known as Mack Web, rebranding was a chance to tie deeply felt values into their services. In doing so, the brand now known as Genuinely created a manifesto for a new marketing era:
“The way our world has evolved has completely changed how companies must shape and market. People not only interact differently with businesses, they expect more. A ‘brand’ isn’t about generating a virtual identity through websites, emails, social media, and being found at the top of Google. Great brands are real and human and they follow through.”
13. Virtual reality that connects an audience
Marketer: Jenna Pirog
Innovation: In November 2015, The New York Times distributed more than 1 million Google Cardboard viewers/glasses to Sunday home delivery subscribers. Since then,VR Editor Pirog has been in charge of innovating in storytelling’s newest platform: virtual reality. Viewers have explored everything from Pluto to SXSW thanks to Pirog’s pioneering work in a new medium.
14. Arts and crafts on Snapchat
Marketer: Soul Pancake
Innovation: Far beyond selfies and landscapes, Soul Pancake is turning Snapchat into a true hub of creativity and community. On the day I wrote this, snaps focused on creating a doodle self-portrait and featured tons of community examples. Even better, lots of their coolest experiments are on YouTube in case you missed them on Snapchat. Follow them for more:
15. The newsletter that loves you
Marketer: Anand Sanwal
Innovation: Ever wondered who’s really paying attention to the emails you’re sending? Sanwal, founder and CEO of CB Insights, a private market intelligence firm, did. So he changed tactics, adding conversational tidbits readers wouldn’t expect into his daily emails (each one is signed with an “I love you”). The result? The newsletter has nearly 200,000 subscribers and has “taken the tech industry by storm.”
16. The political mythbuster
Marketer: Rhea Drysdale
Innovation: When you name your company Outspoken Media, you set the bar high. But even for an outspoken marketer, Drysdale has been on a roll. Her honest account of being a pregnant CEO opened industry eyes and set the stage for her to debunk a political rumor involving Hilary Clinton and Google. When you know your stuff well enough to correct news outlets, you’re going to get lots of attention—deservedly so.
17. The real-time case study
Marketers: Devesh Khanal and Benji Hyam
Innovation: The co-founders of Grow & Convert are racing against the clock to hit a goal of 40,000 monthly unique visitors—and they’re doing the whole thing in public. (What can we say, we’re suckers for transparency!)
18. Simplifying remarketing
Marketer: Elizabeth Marsten
Innovation: Remarketing can be a big annoyance to your audience—unless it’s done right. In the presentation Make Your Remarketing More Than an Echo, Marsten lays down the context and strategy to make sure your remarketing hits all the right notes.
19. Inside views with Facebook Live
Marketer: Christine Dwyer
Innovation: Have you harnessed the giant potential of Facebook Live yet? Dwyer has. The fitness trainer and speaker uses Live to take viewers inside her classes on Facebook, with engaging results. No wonder she’s one of Facebook guru Mari Smith’s fave follows.
20. Email + video = success
Marketer: Ellie Mirman
Innovation: Video isn’t just for social media—it can also be highly targeted and optimized to convert just the right customer. Find out how with Mirman’s presentation from WistiaFest: How to Use Video to Nurture Leads through the Marketing Funnel.
21. A heatmap for your Google Analytics
Marketer: SEER Interactive
Innovation: Google Analytics’ heatmap feature lets users visualize metrics, like users or revenue, over time. But you can’t have it in a report—until now. The analytics team at SEER built a custom Google sheet that allows you to create a heatmap metrics and identify growing or hot trends over time.
22. Social with personality
US: DID IT WORK?
You: Did what work?
US: YOU KNOW, THE #NIGHTMARKETING?
You: No of course it didn
US: PLEASE BUY SMOOTHIES
— innocent drinks (@innocent) July 5, 2016
Marketer: Helena Langdon
Innovation: Whether she’s live-tweeting the Euro 2016 semi-final or finding the humor in Brexit, Langdon, the social voice of Innocent Drinks, keeps followers enthralled by innovating on the medium daily. We’re also fond of Innocent’s compliment generator. It’s our kind of weird. 🙂
23. A Tumblr of Internet ephemera
Marketer: Juan Buis
Innovation: Honestly, I think I’m too old to understand what’s going on with The Next Web’s Tumblr, expertly curated by Buis. But I do know I couldn’t stop staring at it for quite a while.
24. She knows what we want to see
Marketer: Pam Grossman
Innovation: Where do stock photos even come from? Someone has to be dreaming up all those women laughing with salad, and that person is Getty’s Director of Visual Trends Pam Grossman (well, the salad thing probably wasn’t her idea). What visual trends are on her radar for this year? “People who push the envelope and visuals that break with tradition,” along with meaningful consumption and surreal imagery.
25.Keeping it weird on Facebook
Marketer: Sarah Burton
Innovation: How do you get an increasingly overstimulated audience interested in reading the news? What if you read it to them in a sultry whisper? BuzzFeed’s Burton has been experimenting with “ASMR News”—that’s “autonomous sensory meridian response,” for those not in the know, a kind of “brain orgasm” triggered by sounds such as scratching and whispering. “Right now we’re keeping it weird, but simple,” Burton told NiemanLab. “We’re trying to see what people respond to.”
26. Don’t skip the ads on this podcast
Marketers: Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton
Innovation: There’s only one podcast whose advertisements I never, ever skip, and it’s Another Round, a “boozy podcast that covers everything from race and gender to squirrels and mangoes.” Heben and Tracy (and the whole “pod squad”) make sure to put thought into every single moment of their time on air, which means even ads become hilarious drinking games and pop quizzes.
27. Letting the community call the shots
Marketers: Benefit Cosmetics
Innovation: Another great Facebook Live example! We love Benefit’s”Tipsy Tricks” series every Thursday. Viewers have learned to count on this series, and know that they’ll get the chance to ask questions, make requests, and generally take the lead in how the video will go.
28. Curation with care
Marketer: Ashley Hockney
Innovation: Curated content works great because it’s not all about you. Hockney’s weekly “Make Change” newsletter from Teachable is such a great example of sharing the love and building authority and trust as a result.
Bonus: 75 more examples!
Marketer: Alexandria Heinz
Innovation: In case this post isn’t quite enough to get you inspired, Siege Media’s Heinz has curated an incredible resource of 75 content marketing examples, grading each one on a scale of elements that includes traffic, revenue, UX, design and interactivity.
Over to you!
It was so much fun to see all the cool ways folks are innovating with their marketing. I bet you know of many more incredible examples and marketers, and I can’t wait to hear them. Share your top picks for marketers doing awesome things in the comments and add to our inspirational list!